Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Neil Postman
Originally published in 1985, Neil Postman’s groundbreaking polemic about the corrosive effects of television on our politics and public discourse has been hailed as a twenty-first-century book published in the twentieth century. Now, with television joined by more sophisticated electronic media—from the Internet to cell phones to DVDs—it has taken on even greater significance. Amusing Ourselves to Death is a prophetic look at what happens when politics, journalism, education, and even religion become subject to the demands of  entertainment. It is also a blueprint for regaining controlof our media, so that they can serve our highest goals.

Reviews

Reviewed: 2018-06-14

Neil Postman's book is a fascinating look into the influence of media on politics, journalism, education, and religion. He shows how to regain control of our exposure to media to serve our highest goals. This is important in the age of people getting their news from comedians using weak arguments and jokes to influence their audience to agree with their politically driven agenda and perspective - but of course it's funny AND totally objective.

Reviewed: 2015-08-18

In three words, read this book.

Why?

1. Neil Postman's skill in argumentation is a beautiful thing. Whether or not you agree with him, you can learn something by paying attention to how he structures his argument -- so transparently, for one thing; he tries to let you know what he's up to, tries to anticipate and address criticisms, tries to bare his definitions, tries to work within specific and specified historical and disciplinary contexts, tries to explicitly define the scope of his argument. IMO his ability to argue like this is itself a bit of evidence in support of his thesis -- that TV-dominated culture produces different kinds of discourse and thought than does print-dominated culture. Personally as the product of TV- and Internet-dominated era I really noticed & appreciated the difference between Neil's print-influenced writing and more contemporary works.

2. If you gathered (understandably) from the title of this book that Neil Postman is an alarmist who's trying to take your TV away and you don't want to read him because you don't have time or patience for Luddites, then let me reassure you: his argument -- diagnosis & solutions -- is much more nuanced than that (see point #1). He takes nearly the entire book to define the problem as he sees it, then offers his 'cure' in 4 or 5 short pages at the end: the promotion of "media consciousness" through "the only mass medium of communication that, in theory, is capable of addressing the problem: our schools". Basically Postman is just asking us to be mindful of the limitations of TV, and to police our own choices in consuming and using media. Simply by reading and engaging with his book you're accomplishing most of what he's asking you to do.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and plan on digging up more of Postman's writing. Media ecology, media studies, communication studies etc can easily seem irrelevant, but after reading Postman I have probably brought up his name and/or ideas in conversation every single day. His insistence on the importance of media in shaping thought and culture makes me want to read further in this field -- Susan Sontag, Marshall McLuhan, all the other names he mentioned.

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